Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney
rozk

A poem about capital punishment - words for music perhaps

THE BALLAD OF THE HANGMAN'S DAUGHTER

She was the hangman's daughter, brought him tea
early on mornings when he rose to kill.
Busied herself about the house until
he came home. She learned all the mystery

the guild could teach her, but he kept her there
studying how to stone, or burn, or flay,
tear out the guts, or turn a dial. One day
he slipped and broke his neck upon the stair

up to the gallows. And they brought the man
half-hanged with rope burns and his jaw askew
to scrub her pots, and sleep as servants do
on straw beside her door. Her father's ban

was over; she was ready; took her place.
The sword she swung two-handed took the head
of treason's lord in one neat blow. The dead
had nothing to complain of. Her pale face

had one splashed blood drop red against the white.
Her servant wiped it off, and took her shirt
and soaked it clean of blood and sweat and dirt
And held her hair up, while she puked all night.

Next day a burning. She was bribed to choke
the fair young witch before a single flame
could touch her; asked forgiveness, that no blame
could haunt. He washed her hair clean of the smoke

the char, the stinking grease. Next day the rope
for three young thieves – the drop was high and neat.
She kept their deaths brief. Swung upon their feet.
Her servant asked her if he dared to hope.

She struck him and he laughed. Next day, the knife
for an old lecher's balls – she cropped the ears
of a blasphemer. So it goes for years
a daily round of death becomes her life

instead of household chores. At night she sleeps,
her knife beneath her pillow. At her door
the servant smiles, and when she starts to snore,
gets off his pallet softly. Softly creeps

down to the kitchen, out into the street,
drinks with his fellow thieves, his strangler friends.
We all know how in time the story ends -
he staggers home with blood upon his feet

leaves stains up to her door. There comes a knock.
She wakes and finds him wounded; city guards
drag him away, A quarrel over cards.
She watches him on trial; and in the dock

he pleads in silence. She is made of stone.
The black cap's placed upon the judge's head;
sentence of death pronounced. And out he's led.
The hangman's daughter goes to bed alone

And rises early. Oils the gallows's trap,
uses a sandbag made up to his weight
for practice. And he stares at her in hate
as she pulls down the lever. There's a snap

And he is done. The hangman's daughter's eyes
are dry. Each day she rises to the trade
that she was trained for, and it's as a maid
after eight hundred deaths the hangman dies.
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